What We’re Watching: Mondays & Tuesdays

It’s been a crazy-long time since I’ve talked about TV here on UM, but that doesn’t mean we’re not watching. It’s an interesting season because there are a good deal of shows I’m really into, but also a lot of slots in the schedule that are left open. For what it’s worth, we’re still in the dark ages when it comes to cable and don’t have DVR, so all of our viewings are done the old fashion way, “live.”  Continue reading What We’re Watching: Mondays & Tuesdays

Late To The Xbox Live Party: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

amazing spider-man xbox 360 I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record here, but Spider-Man 2 for the PS2 is still one of my all time favorite video games. It did the open world/mission-based thing incredibly well while also offering all kinds of Spidey-based add-on powers and moves to keep things interesting as you swung through NYC, stopping occasionally to kick a criminal’s teeth in. There was a connection to the movie of the same name, of course, but not a huge one, which is great for me because I think the middle of that movie stinks

As I mentioned when I talked about the trailer for Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions — which I erroneously referred to as Dark Dimensions for some reason — I really wanted to like Ultimate Spider-Man which took many of its cues from Spidey 2, but also seemed to dumb things down more than I liked. Since then I’ve kind of shied away from the franchise after not hearing great things about games like Friend Or Foe and Web Of Shadows. But, when some of my friends who are far more into video games than I started telling me that Amazing Spider-Man — based on the film reboot I still haven’t seen — might just be the next Spidey 2, I was definitely interested and actually got a copy of the game for Christmas. 

And it’s close, but it didn’t really hit all the same notes for me. In fact this game, while a lot of fun and challenging at times, really didn’t seem to offer much in the way of new gameplay experience. I’m far from an unbiased voice in this conversation, but the game itself really just felt like an updated version of a game that’s nearly a decade old. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but I was really hoping for something that would take a great game, update it for a new console and also add a lof of new goodness on to it. I mean, the open world style of games have been around for a long time and yet this one didn’t seem to add much to the sandbox. 

And yet, I still had fun with the game. I’ve mentioned plenty of times here and there that my daughter Lucy actually really got excited about this game. For a few weeks she liked watching the old 60s Spider-Man cartoon, but then lost interest but still liked the character. She saw me playing Amazing Spidey and really dug it. In fact, one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to finish this game is that I basically stopped playing it when the kid wasn’t awake. Also, not for nothing, but when a toddler is yelling at you to play a game, it can take away some of the fun. 

So there was an added level of doing something cool with my daughter that she dug while also going through a game that I liked for the most part. Again, it’s not a bad game by any means, but I was just hoping for more. Even though it didn’t do everything I wanted, I still had a great time web-swinging around a digital New York City, trying to figure out where I’ve been and where I can throw down with some bad guys. I even enjoyed the main storyline which does a cool job of mixing a zombie outbreak story and some crazy big mech robot stuff. That’s all aces in my book. 

I’ve already moved on to my next video game which actually happens to be Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions which is much more of a straight-ahead action game than an open world sandbox. I think I’m getting the hang of it and it’s a lot of fun to mash buttons while kicking bad guy butt and also hopping from timeline to timeline while experiencing one cohesive story. Fun stuff so far. I’ll probably review it when I finish, which might be another five months, we’ll see! 

Late To The Xbox Party: Captain America Super Soldier (2011)

I was a little apprehensive about picking up Captain America: Super Soldier for Xbox 360 a few weeks back. Don’t get me wrong, I love superhero based video games, but I aside from the Wolverine game, I haven’t heard much in the way of positive reviews for superhero games in a while. Actually, when it came to this one, I hadn’t heard anything at all, but a quick look on Metacritic told me that the game got pretty good reviews and that’s pretty much all I was looking for. I wanted to throw a shield at Nazis and punch them until they disappeared.

And that’s pretty much what this game is. You’re Cap from the movie running around World War II kicking ass and taking dossiers. I liked that aspect of the game. The fighting mechanic wasn’t overly complicated — or complicated at all, really now that I think about it — so it was kind of a smash em up which was what I was looking for. There’s even a Super Soldier Sense type vision thing that reminded me of a similar mechanic as the Detective Mode or whatever it was in Arkham Asylum. The problem this time around is that the mechanic made everything yellow-ish, which doesn’t make sense when you realize that the things you’re looking at are in a similar color scheme. You don’t really need it much, so it’s not that big of a deal.

There are other parts, where you hit a particular button at a certain point which launches you through the air to a pole or branch or something you swing from to hit something else. It sounds fun, but it’s actually pretty boring because I never once missed. I feel like I’ve played a game with a similar idea that was executed a lot better, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I wished these were more interesting, I also wished there were fewer parts where you have to jam a certain button over and over. I had trouble with the timing a few times, so I’d screw the finishing kill up, but THEN the enemy would get a certain amount of life back and I’d have to beat on him more. So, basically, you had to do these somewhat complex things just to knock a dumb robot over.

So, no, it wasn’t a perfect game, but I had more fun than frustration with it, so I was happy. My enjoyment level doesn’t always rely on that kind of balance, especially if I’m really looking forward to a game, but I literally went into this hoping to throw shields and punch Nazis. Some of the levels were a little more complicated than they needed to be or the save points were in annoying points, but none of those things were SUPER annoying.

Quick Video Game Reviews: Skate 3, Gears Of War 2 & Madden 2011

My video game habits greatly depend on how I’m feeling any given day, how lucky I’ve been in choosing cheap used games to play and whether I’ve decided to write or waste time with digital tasks to complete. I looked back and realized I haven’t talked about a video game since last summer, but I’ve still been playing, just not writing about them as much. I figured this would be a good way to catch up a bit.

One of the longest and best gaming experiences I had came from playing Skate 3. Skate 2 was a game I got sent for free way back in 2008 or 2009 when I worked at Wizard. Video game companies would send a bunch of games to the office every now and then and they’d get disseminated throughout the office. I was lucky enough to get a copy and even reviewed it on the old ToyFare blog, but that no longer exists and thus can not be referred to. So, I’ll summarize and say that I really liked the teleport function on the map, enjoyed getting better and better bit by bit at the various challenges and greatly appreciated the variety of said challenges. I did have some trouble getting the hang of some of the controls, but it wasn’t so bad.

I felt very much the same way about Skate 3. I haven’t played a lot of sequels to Xbox games I’ve enjoyed — Crackdown 2 is about the only one I can think of and that was a huge gigantic disappointment — but I’m glad they were able to keep the same quality, not mess with the difficulty level too much and still give me a game that lasted me quite a while and remained enjoyable the whole time. I even finished all the challenges but one and have even gone back to play a few things again when I’m bored or just want to have some fun flying through the air. I’ve never been a skater, but I like how this game makes me feel like I could possibly do it.

It looks like I didn’t actually write about the first Gears Of War game, but I did enjoy it. I can get a little tired of the whole “space soliders” game (yeah, I know they’re on Earth in GOW, but it’s the same idea), but they gave me just the right about of actual game to play without feeling too long or boring. It took me a while to the hang of whole duck-and-cover game play mechanic, but once I did things moved along pretty smoothly.

I had a very similar experience with GOW 2, making it the second 360 sequel in this post that I not only liked but had a lot of fun with. I don’t remember exactly how long it took me to finish the game, but I don’t think it was very long. Since I only pay around $20 for a game, I don’t mind if it doesn’t give me 60 hours of gameplay. It’d be different if I was paying $60, but I’m not, so I’m okay with a fun, quick and concise game.

There were some pretty intense moments and a few interesting boards. I didn’t have too much trouble with any of the levels or bad guys which I also like. I play these games to have fun and relieve stress, not challenge myself for days to kill one dumb alien. So far, GOW has been the series that I’m most excited about catching up on when it comes to 360 games, but only because I don’t think there’s going to be another Skate game in the near future.

I had a very similar experience with Madden 2011 that I did with Skate 2. I’ve been playing it for quite a while and enjoyed all the challenges therein. I played a few random games then started a franchise and won the Super Bowl after an undefeated season as the Steelers.

After that, I went and moved up to the next difficulty level. Man, there is a huge difference between the two. Like I said, I won every single game on one level, then could not win a game on the next. I’m not sure what the deal was. I could not complete a pass or get more than a few yards on the run. I was hoping for more of a challenge, but not the cold, hard realization that I might suck incredibly bad at this game.

So, what did I do? Instead of completely giving up and moving on to another game, noting that I had gotten plenty of fun out of whatever the used price was, I switched teams. To the Lions. I’m still undefeated with them, but it doesn’t feel like as much of a gimme because it’s the Lions and they hadn’t had their great season when this game was made. I know that’ silly, but it works for me.

I Watch A Lot Of Documentaries: Dalekmania, American Grindhouse, Trumbo & Mayor Of The Sunset Strip

I Watch A Lot Of Movies will most likely be a recurring feature here on the blog because it’s a plain fact. Because I work from home and I like to have something on to either watch or listen to while I do so, I go through a lot of movies, shows, podcasts and records. Sometimes I give them their own write-ups, but sometimes I don’t have as much to say. So, IWALOM will be a kind of catch-all for the things I want to say a few words on. As it happens, I’ve been on a bit of a documentary going back to when I watched and wrote about Too Tough To Die and Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop a few weeks ago.

One of the more curious documentaries I’ve seen on Netflix Instant has to be Dalekmania (1995) which I assumed would be about the history of the Doctor Who baddies. Instead, as the subtitle explains, it’s actually the story of Daleks and the Doctor on the big screen. Back in 1965 Peter Cushing starred as a tweaked version of the character in a big screen flock that remade one of the few serials I’ve actually seen: The Daleks.

Much like the 1996 Fox-produced Doctor Who movie, the movie and it’s sequel, the awesomely named Invasion Earth: 2015, neither film is in cannon, but that doesn’t mean they don’t look interesting. Seeing a documentary based on a pair of films I’ve never seen was cool because it’s not like I had heard any of these stories before. The downside? The movies aren’t on any kind of Netflix so I can’t check them out, which is a little frustrating. It seems like everyone involved (and living) was interviewed and you also get to see a cool collection of Dalek and Who memorabilia from a husband and wife collector team. Worth checking out for Who fans even if they don’t HAVE to know about these flicks.

I was kind of disappointed by American Grindhouse (2010), especially after being so impressed by essentially the Australian version of this doc called Not Quite Hollywood. While Not Quite really seemed to just jump in and celebrate their schlocky movies, Grindhouse seems to take an almost clinical approach which saps some of the fun out of the proceedings.  A big contributor to that feeling is how specifically they define “grindhouse.’ Instead of being about low budget movies sent to drive ins or cheap theaters, we’re told that an actual grindhouse was a theater that would never shut down or stop showing movies. Uh, okay. It’s the equivalent of someone telling you in great detail that what you’re blowing your nose in isn’t actually a Kleenex, but a facial tissues.

The opposite side of the specificity coin is that you actually get treated to lots of different kinds of movies than you might expect, going all the way back to the early days of film. The movie points out that, almost as soon as people figured out how to use movie cameras, they started pointing them at naked ladies. I actually learned this in either high school or college and was blown away at the time because you kind of assume that everything was super prudey back in the day, but in reality people are people and are always curious about things like that.

The film also boasts a quality group of talking heads including John Landis, Joe Dante, William Lustig and plenty of others. Everyone brings something interesting to the table, it’s just a broader table than I was expecting when I turned it on.

I probably wouldn’t have given a movie called Trumbo (2007) if not for the awesome image on this poster. A dude writing in the bathtub? I love it! The story found in the documentary is even more interesting. Dalton Trumbo was one of the infamous Hollywood Ten, a group of writers who were blacklisted for communist leanings thanks to McCarthy and the ridiculous red scare. He wrote movies like The Devil’s Playground, Roman Holiday, Spartacus, Johnny Got His Gun and plenty of others, some of which were credited to other writers who fronted for him and some of the other Hollywood Ten.

The doc has an interesting style that takes many of Trumbo’s writings and has famous actors do dramatic readings. I didn’t realize what was happening at first when people like Michael Douglas, Brian Dennehy, Paul Giamatti and others started doing these monologues in dark rooms, I was confused, but I soon caught on and enjoyed the method. Apparently, this film is based on the stage play of one of Trumbo’s  sons, which makes that all make a lot more sense.

I like that Trumbo never lost faith or face, really, kept writing and later on didn’t seem too bitter about what happened. He definitely answered some questions with a sharp wit, but he didn’t seem bitter, which is inspiring considering the mountains of bullshit heaped upon him.

Like a lot of things on Netflix,  I didn’t really know what Mayor Of The Sunset Strip (2003). For some reason I thought it was about a guy who was influential in the 80s metal scene on the Sunset Strip. It’s actually about Rodney Binginheimer, a dude who started out as a groupie in the 60s, met practically every rock star, got nicknamed in a Beach Boys song, became one of the most influential DJs in music history and is still kicking.

I found this story so fascinating because Bingenheimer is ridiculously damaged. Yes, he’s met every single important rock and roll musician since the medium was practically invented and yes he has (or at least had) a great deal of power in his business, but he is also a sad, lonely man with mom issues. The portrait painted is that of a man who prefers not to be in the spotlight, but absolutely expects to be just on the fringes now. It’s also the story of a man whose time as come and gone, though that’s not the main focus. Towards the end of the movie, the man with ridiculous hair tells the camera that he’s only got one night a week as a DJ on KROQ which clearly bums him out. The only time he expresses any real, obvious emotions happens in a scene where his radio protege finishes a show and Bingenheimer is pissed because he thinks the younger man has basically stolen his entire schtick.

For me, Mayor has two lessons to be learned. First, it shows me that anyone can become important. There was nothing truly special about Rodney Bingenheimer, nothing that would make him an obvious maven of a culture movement. But, he physically got himself where he needed to be and worked his way up to becoming ridiculously influential. That’s the American dream, right? Well, the second lesson shows what can happen if you don’t balance your life out. Even with all his power and influence, something about his personality didn’t allow him to capitalize on it too much and he has essentially faded out of prominence. The lesson is to both keep working even after reaching prominence, but also that all the importance in the world doesn’t fix your problems. You’ve got to work on that stuff on your own and it didn’t seem to me like Bingenheimer has done that.

Just Finished Doctor Who Series 6.0 (2011)

Well, that was quite the half season, wasn’t it? My initial reaction to hearing that the sixth season of Doctor Who was split in two halves was negative, but the positive aspect that I wasn’t taking into account was that it would mean I would get the episodes in my hands a lot faster (we don’t get BBC America or torrent, so we wait for them to pop up on Netflix). I also discovered that seven episodes are a lot easier to take in and absorb than twice that which is good when doing so in a fairly short period of time. Something I’ve talked about before when watching seasons like this is that, in our zeal to finish them, we miss some of the details. And even if we don’t miss the details, it becomes information overload at times. We watched the fifth season–and all the seasons of Doctor Who post-relaunch, really–that way and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure who some of the callback characters were by the end of this half of this season.

My other concern with watch a half season of a series was that it would end on a cliffhanger and we’d be waiting however long to see the next one. Halfway through the last episode of the second disc, I asked a buddy about torrents, but I wound up not downloading them. I can’t stand watching shows on my computer when I’ve got a perfectly good TV sitting right there. Anyway, this fear of getting something less-than what I’m used to proved to not be an issue.

I think these might be the seven best consecutive episodes that I can remember. Some basic plot spoilers follow. “The Impossible Astronaut” was a pretty gigantic mindbonk that set up the rest of the season. That carried directly over into “Day Of The Moon” which not only went back to the 60s, but also utilized the brilliantly designed Silence who can only be remembered when they’re seen. As soon as you turn away, they disappear from your memory. Awesome idea. “The Curse Of The Black Spot” combined pirates and aliens in such a way that I want to see a spin-off of those dudes flying through space. “The Doctor’s Wife” was a brilliant episode written by one of my all time favorite writers Neil Gaiman that took the TARDIS’ consciousness and placed it inside a human being. It was great hearing their shared history from the point of view of the TARDIS. I think this might be one of my favorite episodes of the show as a whole and I thought that even before I remembered Gaiman’s involvement.

The fifth and sixth episodes comprised a two-parter called “The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People.” This pair featured a group of scientists who used doppelgangers to physically do the things that they couldn’t do. As it turned out the ‘gangers were actually gaining sentience which lead to a pretty awesome series of moments reminiscent of those in The Thing where you don’t know who you’re talking to or who to trust (at least as a viewer). And that ending! Gah! Crazytown!

All of which brings us to the “A Good Man Goes To War.” Wow. Usually episodes this good and packed with awesome are two or even three parters and come at the end of a long season. This one comes right in the middle and stands out as quite the tentpole. By bringing back those characters from previous seasons (or were they all just from 5, my memory sucks) and pitting them all against an actual army of enemies with such high stakes (double high stakes, really), the writers really upped the ante and presented a quality hour of television that is also pretty high up on my “faves” list. Even better? It presumably leads into something bigger and hopefully better by the end of the actual season. Oh and they didn’t even rely on the Cybermen or Daleks too much. Bonus points there. Plus those final two reveals are just bonkers. Even with so much goodness, my favorite part of the season has to be the awesomification of Rory Pond. I don’t remember a whole lot about him from the previous season other than he was jealous of the Doctor (who wouldn’t be) and seemed like kind of a wimp. But then he did that whole Last Centurion thing, so that’s pretty great, right? They really built off that this season, developing him as a husband and potential father, leading him on a Taken-esque streak of badassness that was written and performed perfectly. I’d face those stupid Cybermen too if anyone tried to get between me and my family. Maybe that’s why I liked Rory a lot more this season, he went from being just a boyfriend to a husband. I can relate to that and I can’t wait to see what Rory does to those who get in his way with the second half of the season. Oh, and the Doctor too, I guess.

Who’s Who: Doctor Who The Movie (1996)

I’m still not sure why I added 1996’s TV movie version of Doctor Who featuring the one and only appearance of the 8th Doctor played by Paul McGann. For all intents and purposes, it’s a stand alone installment that doesn’t really matter. The long running BBC sci-fi series had been cancelled in 1989 and this was the first (failed) attempt to bring the Doctor back to the hearts and minds of his British fans, as well as viewers of American television. A joint venture between the BBC and Fox, the TV movie happened to air against the very last episode of Roseanne and did not to well in the States. It would be another nine years until the Doctor actually made his triumphant–and ultimately successful–return to TV (which I’ve reviewed the first, second, third, fourth and fifth seasons, still haven’t caught the sixth yet).

I guess I just like oddities and this definitely fits that role. The movie actually fits in with the overall continuity as it begins with the last appearance of the 7th Doctor played by Sylvester McCoy. The Doc winds up in the States, get’s shot by gang members, gets taken to a hospital, dies and then regenerates as McGann, not knowing who he is. Meanwhile, the Master who’s supposed to be dead breaks out of his sorta-jail, turns into a clear, liquid snake thing that winds up taking over Eric Roberts like the weird worm in Jason Goes To Hell. From there there’s a bit of romance between the Doctor and a doctor, something about a millennium clock that’s bad (I honestly missed a few of the finer details thanks to a screaming 12 week old) and the eventual throw down between the two Time Lords.

Overall, it’s not a bad entry in the history of Doctor Who. It’s nowhere near the best representation of what the property can achieve, but I would guess it’s not the worst either. For what it’s worth, the only original Who I’ve seen was on the first disc of The Beginning DVD. Roberts really gets into playing a villain which is fun to watch, but might be a little too over the top for some. I dug it. The one inescapable element of the movie I could not ignore, though, was how much it looks like a 90s Fox TV movie or series. It just reeks of things like Mutant X, Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Generation X. Even with some great sets and fairly good special effects, there’s something very distinctly 90s about the proceedings. I think it might have something to do with the type of film used? Whatever the reason, there’s an overt artificiality that gets to me.

Anyway, I like checking out the history of Doctor Who, especially an odditiy like this. I think one of the reasons I decided to watch this particular disc is because I didn’t really need to know a lot going in. By the way, even if you’re not interested in checking out the film itself, I recommend getting this disc from Netflix because it includes a documentary about the seven year journey from the end of the original series to the making of this movie. It’s pretty epic and probably more interesting than the movie itself.

Also, a quick question: does anyone know why only some of the Doctor Who material is available to watch instantly on Netflix? Only a handful of serials are on there from the first three Doctors. I want to slowly work my way through the whole series, but not if I have to spend so many of my disc rentals on it. By the way, if you’re like me and are looking for a proper list of all the Doctor Who serials in order with links to DVDs on Netflix, go here. It’s a wonderful list and super helpful.